Letter: From Affordable to Attainable

Wednesday, February 10 2016

The APC has recommended that the LTC move forward with “permitting secondary suites in Residential Zones less than 2 hectares (5 acres) to increase diversity of residents on the island and allow for more viable “attainable housing”

 When did “attainable” replace “affordable”? At first I thought it was only a matter of framing the issue differently as was suggested in the July 14, 2015 staff report, to overcome the public’s lack of enthusiasm for providing affordable housing on Gabriola. 

Replacing the word “affordable” with “attainable” seems inconsequential, but it isn’t. Affordable housing is defined in our bylaws, attainable housing isn’t. If our definition of affordable housing doesn’t apply to attainable housing, it won’t necessarily be affordable. It will simply be more housing

Here’s the reality.  Even if you wanted to insist that the secondary suites be affordable and not just “attainable”, this can only be guaranteed through housing agreements. A housing agreement on every secondary suite in all residential zones, including the SRR zone, which is predominantly half-acre lots, would be an administrative nightmare. This is why multi-family, or co-op housing is the only viable option for affordable housing; they occur on one property and require only one housing agreement. 

I seem to recall a report from PHC that notes most respondents interviewed do not wish to live in secondary suites and would prefer separate homes or cottages. It wasn’t until the last sentence on the last page of the Strategies section of the Staff Report that I realized that accessory cottages are under consideration, as well as secondary suites. 

I agree with Staff that legal, up to code secondary suites or dwellings would most likely be built only in new construction. The rental cost would reflect the building cost and not be affordable. Since the existing secondary dwellings can’t be legalized unless they are brought up to code, which is expensive, I don‘t see how this change would have much impact on the substandard quality of living of low-income tenants.  

Given all that, I can understand why some in the community who would like to see an increase in the population for economic or social reasons would happily drop the requirement for affordability. 

What concerns me is that I don’t recall the provision of more general housing as an item on the LTC’s Priority List. All the data, reports, OCP and LUB policies, public input, including the Island wide survey carried out as part of the OCP Review process, have been based on the provision of affordable housing. The community hasn’t been consulted as to whether or not they want to increase the density by creating additional housing without the caveat that it be affordable. 

If the LTC intends to create housing that is not affordable by a generally accepted definition with affordability guaranteed by using the only statutory tool available to control the cost of housing (housing agreements) then say so. I ask that you please provide public consultation on what is actually being considered; more housing, not necessarily affordable or intended for low income families.  

~ Gisele Rudischer